I continue to cling to the notion that voters have not lost their collective minds. That there remains hope for a brighter American future. So I draw sustenance from the news that it has been nine days since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate in a desperate effort to curry favor with a right-wing Republican Party base less than enamored of him and thereby revive his subterranean campaign. But hallelujah and all that. The Tea Party darling from Wisconsin has provided no bounce. Nor will there be a Romney rally.
This is because Ryan's vision for America is radical, which is kind of ironic given that Republicans have sought to tar Barack Obama with that label over the last four years.
Ryan, in word and deed, has stressed individualism over what he calls collectivism, a loaded word with communist-socialist connotations, but it is individuals like the rich who would benefit and individuals like the elderly, the infirm, the middle class and the poor who rely on Washington to get by, ease their suffering and provide job training who would be deeply affected by his slash-and-burn budgets of last and this year. Oh, and financial markets -- the very banksters and others who drove the country into recession with a helping hand from George W. Bush -- would be relieved of all government oversight and regulation, thank you.
More than three-fifths of the cuts advocated by Ryan and rapturously applauded by the Tea Party come from programs for low-income Americans. We're talking billions of dollars eliminated for job training at a time of continuing high unemployment, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry, cuts so severe that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops scolded Ryan, himself a Roman Catholic, for walking away from the nation's moral obligations.
New York Times polling guru Nate Silver found that Romney has gained an underwhelming net of one point, on average, in the eleven polls conducted wholly or partially after the Ryan announcement, while Gallup characterized public reaction to the pick as among "the least positive" that it ever has recorded.
Translation: Voters aren't buying Ryan's toxic recipe and that could hand Obama Florida and Pennsylvania, swing states with large elderly populations. Ryan also has accomplished something that Obama, his surrogates and the news media have been unable to do: Pin Romney down on some economic and social issues that he has been vague about or fled from.
This is the first time in my life -- which has included covering 10 presidential elections -- that a vice presidential nominee has actually defined the presidential nominee, but then this election is shaping up to be special, or I should say especially ugly given the vast gulf between a kinder, gentler but pragmatic Obama and Biden and a pair of challengers who would return the U.S. to the pre-New Deal era when the federal government cared and did little about those moral obligations.
Ben Smith noted at BuzzFeed Politics that:
"[T]he campaign has reached its ugliest, most fevered moment. President Obama himself invoked an old story about Romney strapping a dog to the roof of his car. The Chairman of the Republican National Committee shot back with a jibe about Obama having eaten dog as a schoolboy in Indonesia. Biden suggested that Republicans want to put voters back 'in chains.' Romney demanded Obama takes his campaign of 'division and anger and hate back to Chicago.' Obama's spokesman called him 'unhinged.' The atmosphere bristled with conflict, Twitter spilled over with gleeful vitriol, and the campaign reached the sort of fevered political moment when it feels like anything can happen."
What will happen, and some Republican bigs are already saying so privately, is that the selection of someone as radical as Ryan to run with an empty suit like Romney all but hands the election to Obama, whom I believe is en route to an Electoral College rout. (Go ahead, do the math yourself and you'll see what I mean.) Consequently, these leaders are quietly working to try to inoculate down-ticket candidates from the havoc the twin albatrosses could wreak at the state and local level.
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The entrance of Ryan into the race has resulted in a proliferation of half truths, which is to say not outright lies but lies nevertheless. A pungent example is the claim that Ryan's plan to cut Medicare closely matches Obama's.
That is half true insofar as the pretty much identical amount that would be trimmed.
Here's the other half: Obama's Affordable Care Act puts this money back into the pockets of people who need help paying medical bills, fills the so-called "donut hole" in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage and seeks efficiencies throughout the system. Ryan's 2012 budget -- now eagerly embraced by Romney -- takes those benefits away and replaces them with a voucher system that may work for healthy seniors but will be disastrous for those with various ailments. The donut hole would open back up, access to preventive care would vanish and a portion of the cuts would be used to pay for tax decreases weighted toward the wealthy.
It is rich, or something, that Romney and other Republicans have repeatedly whacked Obama for "failing to lead" on fiscal issues because "he refuses to tackle the entitlement crisis," but then turn around and whack him for cutting $700 billion from Medicare.
Ryan has responded to criticism about this Revere Robin Hood Plan by saying that he actually is helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on the government, a notion that certainly resonates with many voters. But he has been unable to explain how he would make the poor self-sufficient, let alone turn around a struggling economy.
State and local government employee layoffs and not welfare kings and queens are the big engine in the ongoing unemployment malaise, yet Ryan's budget would cut aid to these governments by at least 20 percent, as well as reduce mass transit and highway spending and some other things that we take for granted, like federal money for your local sewage treatment plan and fire department. Unimportant stuff, I'm sure you will agree.
* * * * *Ryan's grand introduction briefly enabled the Romney campaign to change the subject from the presumptive nominee's tax returns, which except for the year 2010, and apparently in a few days the 2011 return, he adamantly refuses to release, to more important subjects like taking class warfare to new heights.
It occurred to me, as well as other uh . . . great minds, that if Obama had made the same claim about his birth certificate -- that "We'll get attacked," which has become I Wannabe First Lady Ann Romney's meme about the refusal to abide by an income tax return transparency pioneered by her hubby's father in 1968 -- he would be laughed out of the White House and all the way back to Kenya.
Ron Dreher nails it when he writes that Romney pays far less in taxes than virtually all of us, on fact at a rate when we were in college, "and he still seems to think he deserves a cookie. I'm sick and tired of him and his wife whining about how people are so mean to them about their taxes."
* * * * *Veteran political pundit Dick Polman raises an interesting question. When Romney tells lies day after day, is it fair for a political reporter to state unequivocally that the candidate is a liar?
Well yes, but don't hold your breath.
Polman cites the oft-repeated Romney canard, now taken up by Ryan, in ads and on the stump that Obama intends to hand out welfare checks to slackers who don't want to work. There is no factual basis whatsoever for this claim because Obama is as committed as ever to enforcing the federal welfare-to-work requirements. What's new is a tweak that gives the states more flexibility in how they would meet those requirements. That flexibility was requested by (cough, cough) Republican governors.
"But surely the traveling reporters can do more," writes Polman. "If 'lie' is too strong a word, then perhaps a more genteel sentence construction would work. Something like, 'Today, Romney said again that Obama has eliminated the work requirement for welfare recipients, an assertion that is contradicted by the factual record.' Anything would be better than the usual stenography."
Ryan is similarly disposed, claiming in recent days that Obama failed to rescue an auto factory in his Wisconsin district that closed in 2008 Bush.
* * * * *Speaking of slackers, Romney has been pretty much been one save for making tons of money by shutting down companies and his one-term stint as Massachusetts governor, and this has been the case since he was eligible for the military draft.Although an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Vietnam War, Romney avoided military service by seeking and receiving four draft deferments. They included college deferments and a 31-month stint as a "minister of religion" in France, where he luxuriated in a mansion when not proselytizing. Church elders were concerned at the time that this classification for the church's missionaries was being overused at the height of the war. Go figure.Romney is in good company in this respect. Fellow chickenhawks include George Bush and Dick Cheney, as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rush Limbaugh among many, many others.
* * * * *Stealing a march on Romney, Ryan now says that he will not reveal specifics of his updated 2013 budget plan until after the election. Same for the specifics of how Romney will revive the economy.This, if you didn't catch my earlier drift, is because both men's plans are political poison unless you happen to be spending a few leisurely days away from Wall Street and are sunbathing on your yacht.
Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images